Football is just around the corner, folks, can’t you feel it!? We figured what better way to get us all ready than counting down the top storylines heading into this season. Here’s the wrinkle: These are all things we’re either excited or worried about. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with the team receiving their highest preseason ranking in program history. We know that dreaded SSUPO wants to rear its ugly head, so while we’re mostly gaga over this team, there will be a few areas that are still question marks. Alec and Essad will break down the top 10 topics their thinking about as kickoff fast approaches.
And with that, let’s continue counting!
#3. The defense of our dreams
Excited or Worried? What’s above excited? Ecstatic? Yeah, that.
Essad: A few years ago, Dave Doeren and the staff made what must have been a difficult decision in switching from a 4-3 setup to a 3-3-5. Many people were not happy about this. The 4-3 setup is classic football, allowing a defensive line to create pressure and break down a pocket. Doeren and co. read the tea leaves with trends in the college game and saw a benefit to the switch. But if you’re going to make a shift like this, you have to make a heavy investment in linebackers, and that they did. After just a few years the staff has built one of the best such groups around. It’s to the point where Payton Wilson (so excited to have him back), Drake Thomas, and Isaiah Moore (also excited to have him back) are taking votes away from each other making it hard for the media to pick which one should be on the first team all ACC. Only Moore was left off between them and that was probably just because they felt like they can’t put all three...
It’s easy to forget that a guy like Savion Jackson is entering his fourth year in the program (he’s listed as a junior but we’re just going to have to get used to the counts being off for a few years until the added year from Covid works its way out). This guy was recruited for the 4-3 setup, and has had to adjust to being an edge rusher within the new scheme. He’s due for a monster season, but he’s not the only one. Being able to return nearly the entire defense means the coaches can focus less on instruction and more on gameplan. They can take a level up in their understanding of scheme, both their own and their opponents. The work has already been done for everyone to know their role and to operate in sync as a unit. I look forward to see Tanner Ingle fly around, Shyheim Battle expertly break up passes, while Drake pulls out the draco.
It’s not just the LB’s. For years, NC State had a laughable secondary, it seemed to be a constant weak point. Doeren recognized this and recruited that area hard. It is hard to believe this could the best State secondary ever, or at least during Doeren’s tenure for sure. Going up and down the roster, I struggle to find a weak unit. There’s obviously question marks, there always are. But there isn’t a single position group you can point to and wonder whether they’ll be ready or not. These guys are ready. It doesn’t mean they’ll be doing like UGA’s defense last year and literally shutting teams down week after week. Points will still be scored, passes completed, first downs given up. But they will not back down from any team, and will get the stops necessary. I’m especially confident since they likely won’t face an offense better than they are as a defense all year. Is it Saturday yet??
Alec: When I think about this defense, what excites me most is the lack of vulnerability. There has never been a unit as complete as this defense during my time as a supporter. The offense in 2017 comes maybe kind of close. State has five really good players to make up a d-line rotation. It’s got five linebackers with significant game experience, three of which are all-league caliber guys. The defensive backfield has three guys who I’d think will be NFL draft picks (could be more or less, I don’t pay enough attention to the most bloated event in sports to really know). State figures to have no worse than the second best LB corps and DB corps in the league, and I would bet on them being best at each spot.
State is so good top to bottom and has a good enough two-deep to withstand potential injuries that there’s very little weakness here. This isn’t 2017 where State had an elite pass rush but couldn’t defend a go route. It’s all there.